Sunday, May 21 marked the end of the 9th Open House Prague Festival, which took place May 15–21, 2023. The festival offered a wide range of accompanying events during the week – from debates and lectures to guided tours and walks. Over the weekend, 107 buildings and spaces that are usually inaccessible were open for all lovers of Prague architecture. The accompanying program and the open buildings recorded over 83,000 visits, the highest attendance in the festival’s history.
“Saturday is usually characterized by the highest attendance, which is reflected not only in the heavy traffic on the website, but especially on site at the open buildings. Compared to last year, we recorded a third more visitors who were interested in exploring the beauty of Prague architecture. We are very pleased that people were interested in our offer of usually inaccessible buildings. Thanks to the incredible commitment of our volunteers and partners in the buildings, tours could take place continually without long waits, for which we owe everyone involved a huge ‘thank you’,” says festival director Klára Veselá. Sunday attendance then confirmed that the total number of visitors increased by 20,000 compared to last year’s edition of the festival.
Long queues formed at only about 15 buildings during the weekend, most of which were first-time participants in the festival. The program highlighted the 100th anniversary of the birth of architect Karel Prager, and one of his most visited projects was the New Stage of the National Theater, where people could see the backstage and technical area. On Sunday, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of architect Antonín Viktor Barvitius, two magnificent villas were opened – Villa Lanna in Bubeneč and Gröbe Villa in Havlíčkovy sady. Many people were interested in seeing the carefully restored representative interiors designed in the neo-renaissance style.
Lines were also forming from early morning at Terminal 4, the oldest part of Václav Havel Airport. Here visitors could take a look inside the governmental and presidential lounge. Traditionally, many visitors pass through the premises of historical palaces, and this year was no different. Thousands of people streamed into the Nostitz, Czernin, and Petschek palaces, as well as the building of the Ministry of Transport, which opened for the first time this year as part of the festival. The historical boathouse of the Czech Yacht Club in Podolí also welcomed a large number of visitors.
The organizers also included industrial and technical buildings in the main program, such as the KOH-I-NOOR Factory in Vršovice, which is supposed to undergo a significant transformation in the coming years. During the festival, people could explore the factory hall where the famous snap fasteners were produced, and they could do so perhaps for the last time ever. Braník Brewery, which now houses dance studios and institutions, has also been successfully converted. Many curious visitors came here during the weekend as well.
Nearby, in Modřany, there is the former Bratři Vinopalové Factory, which produced aeronautical instruments in the past. One of the first high-rise factories in the country, the building is currently under reconstruction, and visitors could see luxurious apartments and enjoy a view of the city from the 13th floor. An unusual view was also offered by the former administration building of the company Motokov in Pankrác. Visitors could also enjoy views of Prague from an unusual angle from the terraces of Bořislavka Center and many more buildings.
Frequently visited buildings this year that have participated in the festival in the past include the Desfours Palace, Vršovice Waterworks in Michle, Quadrio, EA Hotel Juliš, the former Electrical Enterprises – now Bubenská 1, Kramář Villa, or Strašnice Crematorium. A total of almost 4,000 guided tours took place in the open buildings.
The accompanying program, which started on May 15, offered more than 140 events –exhibitions, guided tours, guided walks, lectures, and discussions. “This year’s major theme was the architecture of the second half of the 20th century. Thanks to the open buildings and the accompanying events, we were able to introduce people to Karel Prager, Věra Machoninová, Karel Filsak, and other artists and architects whose work is now considered by experts to be very valuable in the context of Czechoslovak architecture and applied art,” says Andrea Šenkyříková, creative director of the festival.
People attended a lecture on brutalism and reconstruction of the former Hotel Intercontinental with architecture historian Radomíra Sedláková and architect Marek Tichý of TaK architects, toured the former National, later Federal Assembly with theorist Pavel Karous, and visited the new building of the Faculty of Humanities at Charles University in Troja with Dean Marie Pětová, which was created out of a reconstruction of Karel Prager’s canteen. The creation of the exhibition of brutalist buildings in the small park in Klárov was commented on by the author of the exhibition himself, sculptor Krištof Kintera. “Other partners also offered interesting events, and the attendance at those events exceeded our expectations,” says Andrea Šenkyříková.
During the weekend, some architects of the buildings also joined the event and offered visitors guided tours with expert commentary. A number of exhibitions and accompanying programs were held in the open buildings, including workshops and activities for families with children. One of this year’s attractions was the site-specific exhibition of works from the Koojon collection, which was on display in the basement and shelter of Hall 36 at Holešovice Marketplace. A photo contest titled Otevřená Praha (‘Open Prague’) in collaboration with Estav.cz was also held as part of the festival. The contest ran from May 15 to May 21, and the deadline for sending in photos was on May 24 at 12 p.m. Winners of the contest will be announced in the upcoming weeks.
A Festival for Everyone
The festival program also included 9 interactive tours for children (including one for a school class), attended by approx. 150 children in total. There was also a free LEGO and DUPLO workroom at the New Stage of the National Theater. In addition, there were 10 special tours for people with visual and hearing disabilities, attended by more than 80 people in total. For English-speaking Prague residents, guided tours of selected buildings with English commentary took place in 11 buildings.
A Look Behind the Scenes
The festival is organized by the nonprofit Open House Praha, z. ú. An annual community project, the festival engages partners from public administration, private companies, developers, private initiatives, nonprofit organizations, architects, and the general public in a mutual dialogue about the city. It encourages people to perceive architecture and individual buildings in a broader context and arouses people’s interest in their surroundings.
This year alone, approximately 500 volunteers were involved in the organization and preparation of the festival. They worked as tour guides and coordinators of the traffic in the buildings. “The festival takes a year to prepare and we are working with a very limited financial budget. Admission to the buildings is free, which is a condition of the license to hold the event in Prague, which we obtained from the international network Open House Worldwide. We have to look for our own resources to fund the festival, and the future of the festival is a big topic for us, especially this year,” explains festival director Klára Veselá.
Open House Prague brings unforgettable experiences, brings people together, engages different groups of people, including people with disabilities, and has a significant impact on the economy of the city and the country. “Nevertheless, the organization of the event stands and falls on the willingness of a small team of organizers to devote their free time to the event, especially in the period before the start of the festival. Our budget lacks funds not only to ensure the year-round functioning of the team but also, for example, for the technological administration and support of the event,” says Klára Veselá.
The next edition of the festival will take place May 13–19, 2024. “Once we evaluate this year’s festival, we will start working on the next edition in the summer. The festival is celebrating 10 years of its existence next year, and we plan to make the next edition unconventional and festive.” You can already follow our Facebook event, where we will share sneak peeks from behind the scenes.
Photo gallery from this year’s festival to be available…
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